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What are the Bucs worth? A lot more every year, no matter how much they lose

Who says alchemy, the art of turning something of little value into gold, is medieval fiction? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers know better.

The Bucs, a team that went 2-14 last year and was pro football's worst team, saw its franchise value soar a dazzling 23 percent in one year to $1.51 billion. The huge leap in the team's worth reflects the broader success of the NFL business combine in America where folks — and advertisers — can't seem to get enough football.

According to Forbes, which annually ranks NFL and other pro sports franchises, the Bucs ranked 24th among 32 NFL teams. That puts the Bucs just below No. 23 New Orleans Saints ($1.52 billion, 36 percent increase) and just ahead of the No. 25 Cleveland Browns ($1.5 billion, 34 percent gain).

Yet in spite of the heady growth numbers for the Bucs, the franchise is actually lagging. The average NFL team is now worth $1.97 billion, 38 percent more than a year ago. Even the young Jacksonville Jaguars, ranked No. 27 in value behind the No. 24 Bucs, are appreciating faster and look poised to pass Tampa Bay soon.

Forbes picked the Dallas Cowboys as the No. 1 franchise, now worth a whopping $4 billion, despite the team not playing in a Super Bowl in 20 years. But the Cowboys generated record breaking $620 million in revenue (compared to $313 million for the Bucs) thanks to the marketing savvy of owner Jerry Jones and the "gold mine" of its AT&T Stadium. It's the ninth consecutive year the Cowboys have topped the NFL list. This year, Dallas was followed by the New England Patriots ($3.2 billion), Washington Redskins ($2.85 billion), New York Giants ($2.8 billion) and San Francisco 49ers ($2.7 billion).

What do they all have in common? "They are in big markets and play in cash-rich stadiums run by the teams," says Forbes.

"Has the NFL peaked? Don't make me laugh," says the business magazine. It points to the NFL's plans to build a new stadium near Los Angeles — "one that will be so audacious . . . that it could make the one in Dallas seem humble" — that will be profitable for its team and will serve as the "show biz platform" for the league with concerts and entertainment.

More relevant to the smaller market Bucs is the plan by the Green Bay Packers to build Titletown District, described as a 34-acre "destination area" just west of Lambeau Field "to capitalize on their fanatical fan base."

Given the NFL's fever for high-tech, next-generation stadiums, how long will the Bucs remain satisfied with lagging franchise appreciation in an aging Raymond James Stadium? It could prove a complicating financial and political scene in Tampa Bay should the Bucs join the Tampa Bay Rays in a quest for a new stadium.

"Even if they don't play in a big market or profit from hosting non-NFL events at their stadium, owners can still make an obscene amount of money if they consistently put a top-notch product on the field," Forbes says.

The Bucs' challenge, of course, is putting a better team on the field. This season is off to a rough start with the "keys to the franchise" now in the hands of new quarterback Jameis Winston.

That's true — to a point. There's one thing these annual Forbes rankings of pro team values confirm year after year. Regardless of team performance, the value of any NFL franchise will keep rising aggressively in a football-obsessed nation.